Dried lavender is nice in potpourri, but it’s even better in the kitchen, where it can be put to both sweet and savory uses. For years, the French, particularly the Provencal, have been using it in their cooking but it is only recently that we here in the United States have been adding it to our recipes.
One classic use is as a central component in the blend, Herbes de Provence. Unfortunately, in this country, it is difficult to find HP with lavender so what I do is incorporate some into the blend. Next time you buy herbes de Provence, make sure you read the ingredients, It is a blend, like any other, and some are definitely better than others. I usually get some from friends who live in France and bring me some from the local market. If you want to make your own mix, combine crumbled dried lavender with dried rosemary, marjoram, thyme, and savory, and crushed fennel seeds. Herbes de Provence makes a terrific addition to goat cheese, omelettes, lamb and roast chicken.
On the sweet side, you can steep dried lavender in milk, and make creme brulee, rice pudding, or ice cream. It is good in buttery shortbread cookies, especially with lemon zest in the dough or a lemon glaze on top to offset its floral notes. A little goes a long way, though, so don't add too much or it’ll seem like you’re eating a bar of soap.
Make lavender sugar by tossing whole blossoms with granulated sugar and allowing it to sit for a few weeks. Use in tea or sprinkle on cookies or muffins. Or steep dried lavender in simple syrup and use as a flavoring for lemonade or iced tea.
You can usually find lavender flowers at gourmet shops such as Dean & Deluca and Whole Foods. Here in Atlanta I buy them at the World Market. They are not hard to find, just make sure they are the culinary lavender seeds and not the ones treated for sachets.
This year I bought some plants at Home Depot and I will let you know how they fare. They started slow but they now seem to have taken off and I see some of the buds sticking out. Maybe flowers by June or July, we'll see!
Now that I have my ice cream machine down from the attic, the first homemade ice cream of this season is Honey Lavender, something you will not get from Hagen Daz. Use good honey, preferably from Provence, but a good domestic honey will also do the trick.
Makes about 1 quart
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup dried lavender
1/3 cup honey
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1.In a medium saucepan, combine milk, lavender, and honey. Bring to a gentle boil, cover, and remove from heat. Let steep for 5 minutes. Strain mixture, reserving milk and discarding lavender.
2.Combine egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until very thick and pale yellow, 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, return milk to a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.
3.Add half the milk to egg-yolk mixture, and whisk until blended. Stir mixture into remaining milk, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
4.Remove from heat, and immediately stir in cream. Strain mixture into a medium mixing bowl set in an ice-water bath, and let stand until chilled, stirring from time to time.* Freeze in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Store in an airtight plastic container up to 2 weeks.
*I highly recommend you place the cream back in the refrigerator overnight before you freeze in the ice cream maker.